Some of the greatest environmental disasters due to human activity is oil spilled over the ocean’s surface and wrecking marine ecosystems. The infamous images of the oil spill that was caused in the Middle East during the early 90’s and marine life soaked and chocked to death in a layer of thick black oil have haunted the world for long. This, of course, is no isolated incident and genetic engineers have since long tried to come up with efficient oil feeding bacteria that will help in cleaning up the oil mess. Researchers at Rice University and Penn State University have turned toward nanotechnology and have now synthesized a material that could potentially be a live saver in the years to come.
They have created a new carbon sponge material that is manufactured by adding a dash of boron to carbon nantotubes, which make the material a lot spongier, light, ultra durable and gives them an incredible ability to soak up oil. The carbon nanosponges created have an ability to form inter locking structures that could not be formed without the addition of Boron as an impurity. It seems like as in the case of semiconductor technology, a bit of doping always seems to produce the right results.
The increase in the covalent bond formation ability of the carbon nanotubes with the addition of Boron has meant that they have shown an array of desirable properties, the most significant of which is a combination of being oleophilic while still being superhydrophobic. In simpler terms, they are attracted by oil and repel water, enabling them to easily float on ocean surfaces as they absorb spilled oil. The nanosponges are highly durable as you can use them several times over and even collect back the oil that they have absorbed. They can apparently absorb oil 100 times their own weight and the next big challenge for scientists is to synthesize them at a macro level so that they can be used in real life situations.